Monday, April 3, 2017

How to Seduce a Woman (1974)



          A sex comedy that’s almost prudish when it comes to putting sex or even nudity onscreen, How to Seduce a Woman is a peculiar sort of picture, especially considering the anything-goes era during which it was released. Methodically constructed, painstaking in its detail, and running a bloated 110 minutes, the film represents a limp attempt at mimicking Billy Wilder’s style of masterfully structured bedroom farce. Yet writer-director Charles Martin is no Wilder, and smarmy leading man Angus Dunan is an amateur compared to the comic pros Wilder put in his movies (e.g., Jack Lemmon, etc.). Worse, nearly every joke in How to Seduce a Woman underwhelms. But here’s the thing. The jokes don’t actually flop, in the sense of making the viewer groan or wince. Rather, the jokes merely exist. They feel, look, and sound like actual humor, but none of the material is genuinely funny. It’s as if the script was filled with placeholders awaiting a punch-up pass that never happened. Here’s an example. At one point, the protagonist brings a guest to his apartment building, and the valet outside is a stout little fellow in a Nazi uniform with a square moustache who salutes by clicking his heels and raising his right arm. The protagonist says this guy “just came in from Argentina.” A throwaway Hitler joke? In a lightweight sex comedy? Huh? But you get the idea—in another context, perhaps some zany Mel Brooks romp, the joke might have worked. Here, it’s just a head-scratcher.
          In any event, How to Seduce a Woman offers an episodic recounting of erotic adventures featuring Luther Lucas (Duncan). The framing device involves several former Lucas employees telling stories about him to Hollywood gossip columnist James Bacon (who plays himself). These veterans of Lucas’ “Seduction Squad” explain the roles they played during elaborate schemes Lucas used to bed beautiful women. He ran a racetrack scheme by pretending to be a gambling savant. He posed as an artist to woo a gallery owner. He pretended to be gay so an ice queen would attempt “converting” him. And so on. Each vignette has solid logic, but the acting misses the mark just as widely as the script does. Some players are too broad, and some—including top-billed seduction target Angel Tompkins—can’t muster the light touch needed for this sort of thing. As for Duncan, he’s off-puttingly mannered and smug. One suspects this was Martin’s design, as seen by the way Duncan turns to the camera after each conquest, but the sum effect of the characterization is not charming.

How to Seduce a Woman: FUNKY